Saturday, November 17, 2007

Not my terminal

I spent a half-hour blogging from my iPhone and the post never made it online, but the photo did. I added some other pictures. This is the rewrite:

The weekend of the 17th, I took a trip to DC flying out of LaGuardia. When I got to the Delta terminal, I was informed that because I was booked on a Delta *Shuttle*, I was in the entirely wrong place. Of course, nowhere on my ticket or in any of my pre-boarding materials did it mention that I was on a shuttle or that I had to go to some other terminal entirely. Thanks for the heads-up, Delta! The guy at the ticket counter informed me that I had to go downstairs, outside, and take Bus A to the Shuttles. Uh, OK. Thankfully the airport wasn’t too congested and I had arrived with 60 minutes to spare. I made my way downstairs (again, thanks for the lack of signage!), found where I needed to be, and waited for Bus A.

Once I got on Bus A, I wondered where the heck we were going. We passed every other airline terminal I could think of…American, United, US Airways…and then drove through green pastures. Perhaps they were taking us out to the fields to kill us?

Just as I was going from annoyed to supremely annoyed, they dropped us off in front of this small art deco terminal with a frieze of flying fish. My dismay turned to joy: an unexpected architectural gem! And it was in seriously good shape! And it was OPEN! I went inside and glimpsed a small rotunda with murals and nice art deco doors with steelwork reminiscent of airplane wings. A sign for "restaurant" was off to the left and a sign for "gates" was directly ahead. Beautiful!

But, it was pretty much deserted. Clearly, this wasn't it. Dammit! (After doing some web searching, I discovered that this is the Marine Air Terminal, the last remaining active airport terminal from the days of the "flying boat" in the 1930s and 40s.)

I went back outside and saw a slapdash, makeshift short white box of a temporary pile of terminal poo. Great, that was my craptacular destination. I went inside, did the security bit and sat in this minimalist-due-to-cheapness drab interior. Barf:

And please explain those bizarre magazine racks of free reading materials. It's like someone deliberately set out to make as sterile an environment they could muster, but figured if they could toss in some free toilet reading, all would be forgiven.

I'm grateful that I glimpsed the Marine Terminal and found something I want to research further. However, I'm sad that most travel nowadays is full of armed soldiers and nondescript architecture that provides no aesthetic pleasure. Airports and train stations are portals to our destinations, but why has culture devolved to the point that we can't make these temporary spaces as much a part of a positive experience as where we hope to arrive? I'm sure the sheer volume of people traveling now versus in 1930 is the issue, as well as economics. But still--there has to be a better compromise.

If I were applying to architecture school, this is exactly what I would write about in my application essay. Since I have no intention of going back to school, I simply sat in the nearly windowless space, nostalgic for a time I wasn't a part of and yet also grateful that I caught that tiny glimpse into the past.


vivzan said...

oooh, where's that first terminal? Soooo pretty! I want to go through there!

vivzan said...

Hah, this was incredibly funny in places!

Why and when things changed? In addition to our cultural lack of interest in traditional architecture and the rising costs of building materials and labor, I'm guessing it really came to a head when the airlines were deregulated in the late 1970s. There were benefits to deregulation (lower prices) but we also lost a lot of the great airlines (Eastern, PanAm, TWA) that contributed to the mythology of airline travel. Instead of flying being as a luxury experience, it turned into another mode of transportation, like getting on a bus.

Gosh, we used to be all about making our transportation spaces, these transitional transit spaces, beautiful. Think about Grand Central Station, the original Penn Station, Any major rail station, Ellis Island even. It was all about magnificence!

I agree, it can be done better. There has to be a compromise. Air travel has become an ugly, anxiety-filled, joyless experience.

Major Generalist said...

Glad you liked it. You're making a great point about the deregulation of airlines in the 70s...I hadn't considered that. Saying that flying was no longer a luxury experience seems exactly right.

I would imagine things will only stay the same or get worse (god forbid!). I can't really see how anyone truly enjoys air travel these days. Thank goodness for the remaining architecture we do have. This is a good reminder to enjoy it while it lasts.

Rational Answers said...

As airport terminals go, I rather like the United Terminal at O’Hare. While I am not a huge fan, it is obvious that some consideration was given to its aesthetic appeal. Yet I do not appreciate it enough to fly United exclusively where a competitor can get me to my destination for less money. And that is the essence of my take on the situation you’re describing.

Piggybacking on Vivzan’s earlier comment, deregulation marked the point at which air travel went from being an adventure to being a commodity (of course these days it is often an unintended adventure). In general, this "commodification" effort entails standardizing the business by identifying and expanding its profitable elements while jettisoning any "impractical flourishes", regardless of their aesthetic appeal. As a result, an "architectural gem" is set aside in favor or "a temporary pile of terminal poo".

Major Generalist said...

Ah! I've been through the United terminal at O'Hare. I've always enjoyed the neon decorated people mover tunnel, but you're right--I wouldn't choose that experience if I could ultimately fly more cheaply through another airline. I suppose, in a sense, we too are complicit with the acceptance of economy over aesthetics. Sigh, sigh, sigh.